Bullritos franchisee takes on customer feedback

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Restaurant franchisees don’t often have the chance to moonlight as tech entrepreneurs, but for John Carlew, a Houston-based operator of three Bullritos fast-casual restaurants, his second job as co-founder of mobile survey platform Live Feedback Now has him working overtime to improve his restaurants’ operations.

Dissatisfied with the comment cards, mystery shopper services and online-feedback functions he had used during his 33 years franchising Chick-fil-A, Quiznos Sub and Cici’s Pizza units, Carlew was motivated to develop his own method to solicit customer feedback in a way that was easier and more immediate. He worked with mobile technology executives to develop a system that allows customers use simple text-message functionality on their mobile phones to answer a short survey specific to the restaurant in which they're dining.

Any responses that indicate a problem with a meal or service immediately alert the manager on duty or the owner, who is able to instantly call the cell phone that gave the survey answers. That way, the restaurant can straighten out issues before the customer leaves angry, either to never return again or to blast the establishment on Facebook or Yelp.

“It’s the definition of insanity to take $1.5 million to build a location of McDonald’s or whatever, and then turn it over to a guy making $40,000 a year,” Carlew said. “You should turn your restaurant over to the people eating there on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis.”

More than 80 percent of responses thus far have been positive, according to Carlew, and the negative feedback mostly has been constructive criticism or mixed comments such as, “This part of the order was wrong, but thank you for helping me correct it quickly.”

La Porte, Texas-based Bullritos has 18 locations in Texas, Louisiana and Georgia. Carlew, who opened his first Bullritos location in 2009 and is in the process of building several more, spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about how more instant customer feedback has helped him optimize operations at his business.

What drove you to develop a new customer survey platform in what little free time you get as a franchise operator?

I’ve opened more than 100 restaurants in my career, and I’ve always been frustrated to know that, as you as you become a multiunit owner, you lose touch with your guests. So this is meant to duplicate me in all my stores. I have a great management staff, and I explained to them that this [technology] wouldn't be me standing over them but the guest standing over them. It turns the customer into the person driving the vehicle, which is how it should be at all times.

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